The red stigmas of the saffron flower have been used as a dye, a spice, and for medicinal purposes for at least 3600 years . It is a traditional remedy for many conditions, including insomnia, decongestion, depression, heart disorders and tumors. A comprehensive review  of the literature through 2004 found that:
· There are hints (one paper on each condition) that saffron lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow to the retina, and is an anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory.
· In pitri dishes and in mice, cancer is reduced in cancer cells from the skin, lungs, colon, cervix, liver, muscle, and blood.
· Saffron improves learning in mice with cognitive impairment from alcohol but not in undamaged mice. Crocin, the main molecule responsible for saffron’s color, reduces neuron death (PC12 apoptosis). These results imply that saffron might reduce the development of dementia.
Crocin has also been shown to be a main molecule in saffron’s fight against cancer: It binds to and protects DNA from oxidative damage . Crocin reduces fat oxidation in cell membranes  and in platelets, and reduces platelet aggregation , potentially reducing blockage during heart attack or stroke. In the event that tissue is blocked from blood supply, the anti-oxidants in saffron protect tissue damage in the kidney , brain  and muscle . The brain study used safranal (the molecule that gives saffron its smell), and the muscle study showed that there were separate positive effects from safranal and crocin. Crocin has been shown to reduce fat-induced insulin resistance; the researchers believe this is because crocin reduces oxidative stress, improving insulin signaling . Because crocin is a carotenoid absorbing light similar to carotein, saffron protected mice from retinal damage caused by bright light 
Saffron (30 mg/day) was shown to reduce mild depression as effectively as the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in a randomized double-blind study of 30 adults, possibly because saffron improves serotonin handling . Saffron (60 mg/day) cut the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS (including depression) in half over 4 months (three times the drop seen in controls) .
Clyde’s Thoughts: Phytonutrient benefits are always high when they impact cell signaling, as may be the case for saffron and depression and PMS as well as for insulin resistance. There has only been one study for each of these interventions, however. The saffron cancer research has all been done in pitri dishes and in mice, so these results should be compared to surveys of humans with different levels of saffron consumption. The anti-oxidant effects of saffron are impressive, as are saffron’s protection of cells during ischemia; these studies are presumably applicable to humans. Overall, saffron appears to be a powerful anti-oxidant with numerous resultant benefits
Clyde’s Advice: There are many herbs besides saffron with equally compelling science behind them, indicating that it is not a specific herb that we should focus on, but rather a wide spectrum of herbs, including saffron. Try the December “Culinary Recipe of the Month” and try putting saffron into other meals that you make as well. The taste can accentuate many savory dishes and feeds your cells in ways that you might not have been previously aware of.
The Bottom Line: Saffron contains powerful anti-oxidants that protect against ischemia, cancer, and possibly dementia. Its mpact on serotonin handling may reduce mild depression and PMS symptoms.
1. “Therapy with saffron and the Goddess at Thera”, Ferrence SC and Bendersky G, Prosp Biol Med 47 2004 199
2. “Biomedical properties of saffron and its potential use in cancer therapy and chemoprevention trials”, Abdullaev FI et al., Cancer Det Prev 28 2004 426
3. “Interaction of saffron carotenoids as anticancer compounds”, Bathaie SZ et al., DNA Cell Bio 26 2007 533
4. “Protective effects of saffron on genotoxins-induced oxidative stress in Swiss albino mice”, Premkumar K et al., Phytotherapy Res 17 2003 614
5. “Inhibition of human platelet aggregation and membrane lipid peroxidation by food spice, saffron”, Jessie SW and Krishnakantha TP, Mol Cell Biochem 278 2005 59
6. “Protective effect of aqueous saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) and crocin, its active constituent, on renal ischemia-reperfusion-induced oxidative damage in rats”, Hosseinzadeh H et al., J Pharm Pharmaceut Sci 8 2005 387
7. “Safranal, a contituent of crocus sativus (saffron), attenuated cerebral ischemia induced osidative damage in rat hippocampus”, Hosseinzadeh H and Sadeghnia HR, J Pharm Pharmaceut Sci 8 2005 394
8. “Crocus Sativus L. (saffron) extract and its active constituents (crocin and safranal) on ischemia-reperfusion in rat skeletal muscle”, Hosseinzadeh H et al., Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2007
9. “Beneficial impact of crocetin, a carotenoid from saffron, on insulin sensitivity in fructose-fed rats”, J Nutr Biochem 18 2007 64
10. “Saffron supplement maintains morphology and function after exposure to damaging light in mammalian retina”, Maccarone R et al., Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 49 2008 1254
11. “Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial”, Akhondzadeh S et al., Complement Altern Med 4 2004 12
12. “Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomized a2d placebo-controlled trial”, Agha-Hosseini M et al., BJOG 115 2008 515